Sunday Sermon for March 24, 2013, Palm Sunday, Year C
Readings: Lk 190:28-40; Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:8-11; Lk 22:14-23:56
In the first Gospel for today we hear the people proclaiming the praises of the Lord “Blessed is the King Who comes in the Name of the Lord.” We are told that they did this because of all the mighty deeds they had witnessed, the most recent of which had been the raising of Lazarus from the dead. But there is a point of jubilant faith here as they acknowledge the Kingship of Jesus. In the fullest sense, only God is the King in Israel, so there is a profession of faith in the Lord.
We all know that the triumphant jubilation quickly turned to the feelings of fear and even despair. We are told in the Gospel reading that Peter denied the Lord Whom he was proclaiming as King just days earlier. This is a good reminder to us all of why our faith has to be tested: if it is based on an emotional experience or on consolation in prayer, the emotions can change quickly and easily and our faith can crash with the emotions. Faith that has demonstrated itself in the midst of trials, on the other hand, will remain firm and steady whether things are pleasant or difficult.
We see this kind of steadiness in our Lord Himself. First He allows the people to proclaim Him joyfully, but he remained unchanged when the people turned against Him. As we read in the first reading, the third of the Suffering Servant Songs from Isaiah, “I have not rebelled, have not turned back.” The Prophet, speaking of the Messiah, says: “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.” When we look at the High Priestly Prayer of John 17, we can see that Jesus is glorified in His obedience and in His suffering, not disgraced.
Even beyond the suffering, we need to look at the words in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in the second reading, where He says that Jesus “did not deem equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave.” When we look at the Passion there are several points that should make us ponder the humility of our Lord and ask how we would handle the same treatment.
Among other points, Judas betrays our Lord with a kiss, the Chief Priests and temple guard come against Jesus as if He were a violent criminal, He was ridiculed, blindfolded and beaten, He was accused of blasphemy, He was crucified while a man imprisoned for rebellion and murder was released, one of the criminals with whom He was crucified reviled Him.
Perhaps the most painful of all the indignities that occurred was the fact of the release of Barabbas. Not so much because he rebelled while our Lord was obedient; nor because he was a murderer while our Lord was being murdered, but because the one whose name means “Son of the Father” was released while the Other was condemned for acknowledging the truth that He is the Son of God.
We need to look at all of this a bit closer because we are all sons or daughters of the Father. Unlike Jesus, we have rebelled against God and it is our sins that put our Lord to death. So we really need to put our own person into the story each time the name Barabbas is mentioned. Of course, we are freed from the prison of sin and slavery to the Devil only by the fact that Jesus did not rebel and did not come down from the Cross.
We each have to consider our own faith and our own actions in the light of the events recounted in the readings today. Is our faith steadfast or do we proclaim the greatness of the Lord when things are easy or when we are around others who believe, but deny Him when there is possibility of persecution? How do we handle it when people accuse us wrongly or treat us unjustly? Maybe most importantly, do we have the humility to accept it when people violate our dignity?
Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped, but neither was He treated even with the dignity and respect that should be afforded to every human being. If He could lower Himself that far for us, what are we willing to do for Him? Our faith has to be strong enough to look beyond the immediate and beyond what human beings think, say or do. We have to look to the Lord. If we are suffering for His sake, no mater how degrading or humiliating it is on the surface, we need to know that we are not disgraced. Indeed, because God is our help, we are glorified. Only steadfast and purified faith can do this without rebelling or turning back.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.